Fun with the Bible: 6 Great Reasons that Moses Could Never Have Written the Bible

I was asked during the first Fun with the Bible post to talk about the authorship of Genesis-Deuteronomy, also known as the Pentateuch, the Torah or the Five Books of Moses. The question was, is Moses the author of the books whose collective title bears his name. The answer is no.

What Are Our Premises?

Now, numerous religious people will be popping their lids right now and claiming that I’m wrong, a blasphemer, a moron, evil, Satan, etc. And who would I be to deny most of those appellations. But as for the first one, I must object. Moses is not the author of any part of the Bible.

How do I know such things? Well, I must admit that my criteria for investigating the Bible are reason, logic, linguistics, archaeological evidence and the actual words of the Bible. I’m not concerned with what religious authorities say unless they are basing their arguments on these criteria and not just tradition, which is the only thing that could contend for Moses’ authorship.

Though I can’t supply a full list of reasons right here, I will offer a few examples as food for thought to get you started, and then send you on your way to read the first books of the Bible yourself.

A Few Good Reasons

1. Reason number one is that the Bible NEVER claims to be authored by Moses or anyone else for that matter. No one internally claims authorship. If Moses authored the Bible, you think he’d have said something – or anyone who wanted to be remembered for doing so for that matter. Only later religious people, hoping to attribute authorship and lend validity, claimed that Moses was the author.

2. Another issue is time. The Pentateuch is written in such a way – and doesn’t try to hide the fact! – that implies looking backward. It refers to the present day by saying things like “until this day” or “that was current then.” For instance, Genesis 23:16 refers to weights and measures as they were current in the time of the story, not the author’s time. Things are said in Moses’ time that they are there until this day.

3. Getting things plain wrong is a problem too. Presumably if God was telling Moses the way things were, he wouldn’t get facts wrong. For instance, in Genesis 21:32-34, the Bible speaks of Abraham residing in the land of the Philistines, a people that, archaeologically speaking, weren’t in the land until hundreds and hundreds of years after the supposed time of Abraham.

4. Mistakes and inconsistencies exist in the text, problems that surely Moses, if God were telling him what to say, would not have created. The reason for these problems, scholars have discovered, is that there are multiple authors’ voices and texts in the Pentateuch. In fact, Genesis through Deuteronomy is the weaving together of multiple texts to create one story. It was done very well but the originals were not changed. Some characters have multiple names, contradicting or repeating stories, etc. We don’t have to get into the details here but this is called the Documentary Hypothesis. If you want to know more, we can talk about it. Just ask.

5. Logical inconsistencies exist. Read the first verse of Deuteronomy. “These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan.” Well, it’s logically impossible for Moses to have written such a sentence. “Beyond the Jordan” means on the other side of the Jordan (though some crappier translations try to gloss over this wording, the original biblical Hebrew has precisely this meaning) and it is a biblical fact that Moses never went into the land of Canaan. Therefore, if he was only on the eastern side of the Jordan River and the person said he spoke on the other side of the Jordan River the person writing must logically be writing from inside of Canaan (approximately modern day Israel). That person can’t be Moses. Get it?

6. Moses can’t speak of his own death, right? In the end of Deuteronomy, Moses talks of his own death – saying, “Moses died.” The author also says that Moses was “unequaled” after we are told earlier that Moses was the most humble man ever. Seems illogical that he could say both things about himself, huh?

Where to Go from Here

There are numerous other reasons besides and many more examples for each of the points I’ve mentioned but this should get you started. If you read Genesis through Deuteronomy from the beginning without the usual religious biases that people have trouble with then you’ll see all this for yourself.

Read the Bible like any other book that you would read, not affording it the privilege of not making sense simply because it doesn’t and because it’s the Bible. Ask questions and see what’s wrong. I’m here to help if you get stuck or don’t understand something.

This is having fun with the Bible – reading it on our own to see all the great things we can learn from it while trying to get at the truth about its history and origins.

Do you have any questions? Do you disagree with everything I’ve said and want to tell me why? Do you think Moses wrote the Pentateuch? Why?

Can you give any other examples of why Moses couldn’t have written the Pentateuch?

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15 Responses

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  5. 1. the bible never claim Moshe authored the bible ? are you sure you read it or you’re

    just copying materials from a atheist website for lonely geeks ?

    Exodus 17:14 : Then God said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be

    remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it”

    Exodus 34:27 : Then God said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with

    these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.”

    Deuteronomy 31:9 So Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of

    Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of God, and to all the elders of Israel.

    Deuteronomy 31:24-26 : After Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law

    from beginning to end, he gave this command to the Levites who carried the ark of the

    covenant of God : “Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the

    covenant of the LORD your God. There it will remain as a witness against you.

    2. “until this day” does not indicate how many days have passed. And we all know that

    the Bible was edited during the israelite-judeam monarchies. So its very probable that

    scribes/priests added words (because a piece of the scroll was lost or destroyed or to

    make to story more compelling, etc). From the Second Temple period onwards, the copying

    process of the jews was much better as the Qumran scrolls show us (they are 90%

    identical to a 21st century hebrew bible).

    3.”Genesis 21:32-34 the land of the philistine”. It is a geographical term and could be

    an anachronistic addition by a later scribe. Or mabye the people living in south-west

    Canaan were always called “philistines” and were not greek new-comers but indigenes.

    The later sea-peoples (leaving NOT ONE text in the region) took their names and their

    land…

    4. The “Documentary Hypothesis” has nothing to do with the orignal hypothesis invented

    by the 19th century german (and anti-semitic…) scholars. Read Umberto Cassuto and

    you’ll start to wonder how people can still believe in it.

    5. see 2.

    6. The end of Deutoronomy has always been understood by jews to have been written by

    Joshua (cf several rabbinic works : the Talmud and some mediaval jewish sages). So no

    problem here.

  6. Hi Squall, thank you for your objections and for putting up your thoughts on these matters. They’re all common and quite understandable issues, as many of these things can be hard for people to accept. I totally understand where you’re coming from and appreciate that you opened this discussion.

    For starters, and to answer one of your first questions, no, I didn’t copy this material from an atheist website for lonely geeks. Though I am a huge nerd, I am not, as luck would have it, a geek. Nor am I lonely – I live with my loving and wonderful girlfriend. Moreover, none of this material was taken from a website, but rather, it’s a quick and dirty summary of a few points collected after years of studying with some of the brightest minds and some of the world’s foremost biblical scholars at some of the top institutions of scholarly biblical learning. It was great times.

    In any case, let’s move on to your issues and objections.

    1.
    Verse 17:14 refers directly to the story of Amalek. If we were hanging out, and something hilarious happened, and I said, hey, write that down so we don’t forget to tell our buddies later, you wouldn’t write down the history of our relationship (or of the universe’s creation), but just the particular anecdote in question.

    Exodus 34:27 It is certainly true that these verses say that Moses was commanded by God to write these words, but again it is which words that are in question. In this case, it is necessary to read only the following verse to find out. The final sentence of Ex. 34:28 is written (in the biblical Hebrew) as a simple action summary of what happened – not the command form in the verse above. “He wrote upon the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten words [or commandments, as we generally understand them to be].” Thus, again, it is not the whole Torah, but only these particular instructions or words that are referred to, both by God and written by Moses. Effectively, it’s saying that Moses wrote the ten commandments on the tablets himself, his punishment for breaking the ones that had been written in God’s finger, and a most necessary element of the story to understand God’s reaction to Moses’ action.

    Deut 31:9 Deuteronomy is an interesting case because in many ways it stands on its own – mostly because it was written on its own. First, the word ‘torah,’ the one used here, only means ‘law’ or ‘instruction’ and is the word is only the way we refer to the entire five books because it is considered one set of laws. This verse, however, refers to the laws that Moses has recited, and you are right, this is pretty much the closest we come to a statement that Moses wrote the Torah, but it is not Torah (capital T) as we know it, but torah, instruction or law. Moses wrote these laws that are mentioned, and actually it is only the laws in Deuteronomy that he wrote, which curiously have interesting discrepancies from the laws we find in Exodus and Leviticus. 24-26 do refer to a book, but that book is not the whole Torah, but rather, Deuteronomy (which is actually a composite work). If there’s any viable objection to this entire issue, you’ve pinpointed it here, but further study of Deuteronomy and its place in the whole Torah will lay the issue to rest.

    2.
    While you say, edited in the days of the monarchies, I will clarify and say, written in those days. Certainly, editing admits of hands that didn’t belong to Moses meddling with the text, and based on one of your reasons for why they would meddle – to make it compelling – I would have to ask why God’s story written by Moses wasn’t sufficiently compelling? In any case, what you have mentioned here and in the sixth objection (about Joshua writing the end, and yes, that has long since been agreed upon by rabbis in the Talmud), is the beginning of the crumbling (slippery slope, I know) of the theory that Moses wrote the Torah. Small admissions lead to larger questions and careful investigation leads to the conclusion that Moses could not have written the Torah. Abraham ibn Ezra knew it in the 12th century and warned the wise who recognized this to keep their mouths shut. Baruch Spinoza, not interested in ibn Ezra’s warning, knew it too and split the issue wide open. Today, scholars the world over know it as well.

    3.
    Despite this objection, it remains the case that Philistia was not a geographical term until after the arrival of a sea-faring Greek peoples (though them being Greek is the only debatable part and an element of the domino migration theory) who actually settled there. As archaeological evidence indicates, this only happened well after the time of Abraham. It is not that it was an addition by a later scribe (another tacit admission that Moses could not have written the whole Torah which makes us wonder why there would have been problems with Moses’ text or why, if it was considered to be from God, scribes would have had the arrogance to change it intentionally), but that at the time this text was written, the term Philistia had become a geographical term and was being used logically as such. The writer would not have known that it wasn’t always called what he believed it to be called.

    4.
    It’s not exactly true that the 19th century theory has nothing to do with the modern one. Though many advances have been made and much has been learned and developed since, modern biblical scholars recognize that they owe much of their work to the difficult path and assertions blazed and made before them. Moreover, anti-Semitism doesn’t necessarily make one a bad biblical scholar. Though it may not be nice, Christians care just as much as Jews (maybe more?) about Moses having written the Torah, and this is not an issue for only one religion, but for all interested in the Bible.

    As far as Cassuto is concerned, I have read him, and I think it’s a shame that his many quality contributions to biblical scholarship are now practically overlooked by people who focus erroneously on his opposition to the Documentary Hypothesis. Within his long exposition attempting to disprove the theory, he has numerous important observations and conjectures about the biblical text, but they are overshadowed by the fact that he is seen primarily as having focused all of his attention on disproving the theory and trying to mend the problems it posed. For the most part, the field has long since moved past Cassuto’s objections.

    5.
    Your reference to what you said in number 2 does not resolve this problem, but only adds to the fact that there are numerous pieces of the Torah that were not written by Moses, leading to the same problems I’ve already discussed. Again, this is not additions to the Torah but the natural thought process of the original writer(s) who was not pretending to be Moses but just writing naturally. Naturally, he was on the Israel side of the Jordan.

    6.
    See 2.

    Again, Squall, I really do thank you for discussing these matters with me and look forward to anything else you would like to add that does not include us fortifying our impasse. We’re allowed to disagree, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the religious belief that Moses wrote the Bible. However, as scholars, there is overwhelming evidence that not only could the Bible not have written by Moses, but moreover that the Documentary Hypothesis is incredibly sound – tried, tested and true. Funny enough, many of my own teachers have been devoutly religious individuals which made it all the more fascinating that they teach and work on the Documentary Hypothesis.

    If you would like more on this I’d be happy to refer you to some excellent scholars and articles, as well as run through some exercises where we can see ourselves how this works and where it works in the most glaring places. Let me know, and thank you again for responding. I was hoping that someone would comment and I’m glad that it was someone who is truly interested and engaged in the material rather than just an angry zealot. Your arguments were informed and thoughtful.

  7. I have found William M. Schniedewind’s How the Bible Became a Book: The Textualization of Ancient Israel to be quite helpful. 🙂

  8. Thanks Richard. Though I’m not familiar with that book, I checked it out online and it certainly looks like a good one. I would also recommend James Kugel’s “How to Read the Bible.” It’s a little heavy on the etiology but a very good starting place and reference.

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  10. Hi Jay,

    You might also want to look up the dates for Abraham coming out of UR, and Lots rescue from the city of Dan by Abraham.
    Also there is a discrepancy with the date at time of death of Abraham father.
    All three are time/age discrepancies from genesis. Further proof that God did not inspire the work.

  11. Hey Wordofme – those issues you raised are also important proof of the Documentary Hypothesis and the fact that the Torah wasn’t written by Moses. However, I am always careful not to draw a conclusion that exceeds the bounds of my reasoning, which is to say that all this being the case, I don’t know that God did not inspire the Torah. What I know is that Moses didn’t write it – that doesn’t mean that those whose hands are found throughout weren’t inspired by God. Some of the brightest religious minds support and research the Documentary Hypothesis and keep their faith as a separate issue.

    Which isn’t to say that you aren’t entitled to believe that God didn’t inspire the Torah 🙂 Just to note that we should be careful about what conclusions we draw.

    Thanks so much for reading and contributing to Fun with the Bible!

  12. Hi Jay, thanks for your reply.

    Well all I can say is that the discrepancies are in there for all to see and there is no chance of a misreading.

    Abraham is said to come out of Ur of the Chaldees or Chaldeans, when in fact the Chaldeans did not control the city for another eight hundred to a thousand years. The city was there, but it was not called what the Bible called it at that time.

    The Bible says that Abraham rescued Lot from the city of Dan but the city of Dan was not called that for another 300 or so years. The cities actual historical name was Laish when Abraham and Lot were there.

    These are archaeological attested dates as well as written history with clear cross-references to secular works.

    Also the age of Abraham’s father, Terah, when he died is mentioned two places in the Bible and when you do the math there is about a 70 year discrepancy.

    Also one just has to mention the Flood of Noah and the Tower of Babel and the Genesis of Adam and Eve because they tie in so tightly to the Pentateuch.

    We know from humongous amounts of scientific data that there was never a world wide flood. There is way too much real scientific evidence against it.

    We also know that the Tower of Babel which supposedly happened about a couple of hundred years after the flood, never happened, as there were millions and millions of people spread throughout the whole world and they weren’t just grunting at each other, they were talking in different languages. These same people were living in the same places for thousands of years both before and after ‘The Flood.’

    And then there’s Adam and Eve which ‘Moses’ writes about. The evidence that we have in both DNA and bones and artifacts and ruins is just overpowering. Our human race has been on this earth in modern form (Homo-sapiens) for well over 150,000 years. Our race had a period at about 50,000 years ago where we really started rolling and advancing rapidly.

    We all came from Africa, and there was another wide-spread race that proceeded us…the Neanderthals. All of this taken together and combined with hundreds of other lines of evidence means that there was no literal Adam and Eve, no fall from grace, no original sin… that Paul made up, no need for the sacrifice of Jesus and that whole drama.

    Common beliefs among Biblical scholars nowadays seems to be that the Torah, Pentateuch, etc. was written while the Jews were in exile in Babylon or shortly thereafter.

    Now for God to allow these mistakes in His holy word, as well as the ones you mention, I would think would be very un-godlike. These would be obvious mistake that a later more sophisticated and learned people would be able to spot. People of the time would have no clue.

    So one could logically derive the thought that this Torah, Pentateuch, etc. was purely a man-made-not God-inspired several chapters. If God directed it there would not be the glaring errors that later scholars could easily find.

  13. I certainly wouldn’t argue the points made about the Pentateuch or science/evolution, etc. I also appreciate you fleshing them out for us a bit more so people know the particular details in question. I think the dating is particularly important. It’s also interesting to think about why the authors of the Bible thought what they did, which is to say that they saw that things were a certain way in their own day (the Chaldees controlling Ur, for instance) and assumed that it has always been that way.

    Understanding how one came up with the story for the Tower of Babble is also interesting. The story is, of course, etiological, meaning that it’s goal is to explain present circumstances from historical events. We all speak different languages today, but it makes sense that we started with a single language. Thus, this story satisfies that problem and even introduces what a person from the countryside likely saw when he came to an urban center in Mesopotamia – what appeared to be enormous towers reaching into the sky.

    Now, I’m really not arguing for the Bible being divinely inspired – it really doesn’t matter to me personally whether or not it is (and this isn’t my way of disregarding this interesting conversation – only to note that it’s not a personal issue for me). I could conceive of reasons, playing the devil’s advocate, that God might want the Torah to exist in its current form, among them that we can learn more about the way ancient people thought and what their religion’s were like by unraveling the documents that make up the Torah and understanding their particular theology and stories and differences than we can accepting the truth of the stories as written. Now, I don’t actually suppose that there’s some deistic design behind that in particular, but I still don’t think that problems with the text logically preclude divine inspiration because the divine would not necessarily conform to the logical.

    Also, the logic that exists behind the interweaving of the documents comprising the Torah is fascinating – one might say inspired 😉 …. though I wouldn’t.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful comments.

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